On June 10, 1999 an Olympic Pipe Line Company pipeline ruptured and spilled
over 236,000 gallons of gasoline into Hanna and Whatcom Creeks. The
resulting explosion consisted of a fireball which raced one and one-half
miles down Whatcom Creek and created a smoke plume twenty to thirty thousand
Three people were killed - two ten-year old boys and an 18-year old young man
who was fishing in Whatcom Creek. Eight people were injured and extensive
damage incurred over the mile and one-half length of Whatcom Creek.
Approximately 26 acres of trees and vegetation were burned during the
incident, including 16 acres of mature second-growth forest within Whatcom
Falls Park and 10 acres of third- or fourth-generation floodplain forest and
meadow west of the park.
Fish and wildlife impacts were impossible to fully quantify. Field staff did
collect or observe more than 100,000 dead salmon, trout, lamprey, and
crayfish in the days following the fire. Scientists concluded that all
aquatic life in three miles of Whatcom Creek was killed through direct
contact with the fuel or fumes, or when the fuel ignited. For additional information on the pipeline explosion incident, please visit the Washington State Department of Ecology's website.
Response to the pipeline incident has been carried out under the federal Oil
Pollution Act and Washington’s Water Pollution Control Act and Oil and
Hazardous Substance Spill Prevention and Response Act. An oversight
board, called the Natural Resource Trustees was established; its members
include: the United States Department of Commerce as represented by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the United States
Department of the Interior as represented by the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service; the State of Washington as represented by the Department
of Ecology; the City of Bellingham; the Lummi Nation of Washington; and the
Nooksack Tribe of Washington.
The Trustees and the Olympic Pipe Line Company have established a fund of
$500,000 from which all long-term monitoring and maintenance activities
related to this incident are supported.
A maintenance and monitoring plan was established to create protocols for
documenting environmental recovery, evaluating long-term performance, and
providing a routine for appropriate maintenance activities using an adaptive
management approach. Early projects include those on
Cemetery Creek and Salmon Park. Monitoring
of the restoration project site will continue for 10 years.
The following reports are now available:
Whatcom Creek Post-Fire Evaluation - 10 Years After (PDF)
Whatcom Creek Ten-Years After Summary Report (PDF)
Whatcom Creek Restoration Project Report (PDF)